Opinion: Potsdam Conference and Russia’s crooked-mirror politics in Kaliningrad

Potsdam Conference

A Council of Ministers of the victorious WWII countries was to prepare legal documents for a final peace conference. After 4 years of fruitless discussions, the Council vanished into oblivion. In the interim, the Soviet Union annexed the territory unilaterally and established there a threatening military base.

Seeds of deadly virus

Seventy years ago World War II ended in Europe. Leaders of the United States (U.S.), Great Britain, and Soviet Union met at the end of July and in early August of 1945, in Potsdam, to redraw the boundaries in Europe that decided the fate of East and Central European (ECE) nations. Germany was to be demilitarized, de-nazified, reduced in size, and eliminated as an economic and political power. At the conference, the U.S. and Britain not only ignored the Soviet Union’s wanton plundering and mass atrocities in its occupied part of Germany, but also closed their eyes on Joseph Stalin’s initiated political and economic domination of the entire ECE region. The Western Powers all but ignored the noble promises made to the people of the world in the Atlantic Charter1 – the right to choose freely by self-determination their way of life and political structure. Instead of freedom, they were abandoned by Western Powers to live under the Soviet Union’s heavy thumb for nearly half a century.

Soviet Union – the undisputed winner

WWII winners agreed at Potsdam2 to set the new western boundary between Germany and Poland along the Oder and Neisse rivers, and the eastern border between the Soviet Union and Poland generally following the Curzon line, that Hitler and Stalin selected in 1939. Southern 2/3 of the East Prussia territory, that was part of Germany until the end of WWII, would be absorbed by Poland, while the northern third would be temporarily administered by the Soviet Union. The most important and time consuming issues at Potsdam were disputes on principles: which of the new governments under control of the Soviet Union would be recognized as legitimate. It was finally agreed to recognize only those based on free elections. Western leaders did not pay any attention to the farce of “free” elections in Soviet Union controlled countries

Western Powers saw no problems with the Soviet Union taking possession for war reparations any assets and equipment in its occupied East German territory. They also allowed dismantling and transferring to the Soviet Union 25% of industrial machinery and equipment from their occupied zones of Germany. Victorious WWII countries created a “Council of Foreign Ministers“ to prepare a peace treaty with defeated Germany. The Council functioned during 1945-49 without coming to an agreement. The peace treaties to this day have not been concluded. Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia were not mentioned in any of the discussions, as if they never existed.

Stalin – master of the situation

Why were the Baltic countries ignored at the Teheran, Yalta, and Potsdam conferences?3 Stalin simply did not want to bring up the subject, because of his complicity with Hitler regarding Soviet occupation of the Baltic States and war against Poland. On the other side, Western Powers never paid much attention to the occupation of the Baltics in 1940, and being in war against Germany, had no interest to create conflicts with Stalin. For these reasons, the topic on Baltic States was kept out of any meeting agendas. At Potsdam, the U.S. was particularly interested in quickly bringing the Soviet Union into war with Japan and would do almost anything to please Stalin. Furthermore, Moscow’s intelligence agents had deeply penetrated the most important U.S. and U.K. government and policy developing academic institutions at the highest levels.4,5 They effectively influenced U.S. and U.K. policies in line with Soviet Union’s political goals in Europe and to a considerable extent in Asia. Moreover, the death of the U.S. president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, in April 1945, and Winston Churchill losing elections in Great Britain in July, brought great uncertainty in the policies the new U.S. president and the British prime minister will pursue. This helped Stalin to attain his goals with relative ease.6

Upon Red Army’s victory over the Germans in Stalingrad in February 1943, Stalin was now confident of winning the war and in a position to dictate the terms of post-war Europe to his Western allies. At that time, Stalin’s approach towards the fate of East Prussia changed considerably. In 1943, the Soviet Union broke off diplomatic relations with the exile Polish government in London, and started to form a pro-soviet, communist based Polish government in Moscow.7 While previously tacitly agreeing with the U.S and Britain’s view of Poland being awarded all of East Prussia after the war, Stalin now claimed needing the northern part of that territory with the port of Koenigsberg for all year access to the Baltic Sea. However, the real purpose was to draw Poland into shared partitioning of former East Prussia. As a result, Poland would be forced to rely on Soviet Union’s support against future German claims to recover any lost territory. Consequently, Poland would not be in position to oppose Soviet Union’s domination and sovietization of Central and Eastern Europe.

Stalin did not disclose to the western allies his strategic plans regarding the future of the rest of Europe. He explained, that the Koenigsberg region would provide the Soviet Union an ice-free port in the Baltic Sea region.8 Neither Churchill nor Roosevelt opposed such Stalin desires at the Teheran conference. According to historian C. Laurinavičius of the Vilnius University, Western concurrence with Stalin’s wishes was to assure at the time the Soviet Union’s continued participation in the war against Germany.

“Gift“ to Lithuania

The Soviet Lithuania’s politician and historian Romas šarmaitis9, in his February 27, 1944, diary notes, that the Soviet Union’s foreign minister, Vyacheslav Molotov, posed, in a meeting with Lithuania’s Moscow based communist leaders, the question of what they think Lithuania’s western borders should be after the war. According to Lithuania’s historian Antanas Kulakauskas, Lithuania’s communist leaders (LCL) quickly formed an advisory group, made up of Antanas Venclova, Povilas Pakarklis, Juozas žiugžda, Juozas Vaišnoras and several other Lithuania’s communists, to formulate a response. A committee, headed by Leningrad’s linguist Boris Larin, prepared for the Lithuania’s communist government a proposal to annex to Lithuania the eastern part of East Prussia bounded by a north-south arc approximately 60 km east from the city of Koenigsberg (now Kaliningrad). The annexed territory (known as Lithuania Minor) would include the entire Curonian bay including the dune strip up to the shores of the Baltic Sea, and the cities of Tilžė, Ragainė,  Įsrutis, Gumbinė and Tolminkiemis, that were the homelands of Lietuvininkai (ethnic Lithuanians) in East Prussia. The proposal was approved by LCL and submitted to Molotov. Nothing was ever heard again of what happened to that document. It was neither referred to, nor did Lithuania’s claim come up as a topic at either Yalta or Potsdam conferences.

Fate of East Prussia population.

Stalin attained at the Potsdam conference all of his at the time intended goals. Germany was forced to December 1937 borders. Ethnic German population was forcibly evicted under most horrifying conditions from all of Soviet occupied central European countries.

East Prussia, which was in German possession since the XIII century, had a civilian population of 2.6 million in early 1944. As the Soviet army advanced into this territory, about three quarters of the people fled to the west. Several hundred thousands were killed by gunfire of battling armies and/or perished in icy waters of the Baltic Sea when their evacuation ships were sunk. About 300,000 of the population, of which 120,000 of Lithuanian ancestry, remained. General Chernyakhovsky, the commander of the Russian army in the region, issued to his soldiers, entering East Prussia, orders of ruthless destruction in words, such as: “We will remain satisfied only upon their total extermination…No mercy – no pity on anyone…this fascist country must be turned into desert.” Not a single locale escaped extreme violence, mass killings, gang rapes of females of any age, nailing of people to walls and trees, and numerous other inhuman atrocities. Only about 160,000 local inhabitants remained alive at the end of 1945. They were forced into concentration camps at Koenigsberg, Įsrutis, Prūsų Ylava, Gastai and Tolminkiemis for slave labor and exposed to dreadful hunger and numerous deaths.12 Thousands of child orphans, called “wolves’ children”, were aimlessly drifting throughout the countryside and eventually, many sought refuge in Lithuania by stowing away in east bound freight trains or swimming across the river Nemunas.13

First Russian colonists began to arrive in the Soviet occupied Kaliningrad territory in autumn of 1945. On October 11, 1947, the council of ministers of the Soviet Union, in violation of the 1907 Hague convention, adopted a resolution “towards removal of German people from the Kaliningrad region“. All of the remaining 102 thousand people, including those of Lithuanian ancestry, were deported in freight cars to East Germany. The spiritual and cultural heritage of more than a millennium was wiped out, as if it never existed. Everything, even hydronyms, was converted, without any relevance to the past, into unrecognizable Russian names.

The Kaliningrad region goes forgotten

After the Potsdam conference, discussions about Lithuania absorbing part of the East Prussia region died down. Only one remotely related note appeared in a May 1945 article of the newspaper Tiesa, in which the Soviet Lithuania’s minister of justice, Povilas Pakarklis14, remarked that the Germans at one time robbed East Prussia from Lithuanians and their kinfolks – the old Prussians. Pakarklis also differed with the Potsdam conference decision to russianize the Karaliaucius-Koenigsberg region. He wrote a letter to the Soviet government: “East Prussia, even upon being subjugated by the Teutonic Order in the XIII century and after attempts of over 600 years to be colonized by the Germans, remained mostly inhabited by Lithuanians. Accordingly, the names of cities, towns, villages and the rest of the countryside should not be converted to something new”.

The Prussia Lithuanian Council (known as Council of Lithuania Minor), residing in the West, published in 1946 two important declarations, known as Fulda Acts15. They demanded reunification of the Lithuania Minor region with the reestablished independent Lithuania and an end to russification of the occupied territory. Until Lithuania’s independence is restored, the Council noted, the region is to be governed by a special commission of the United Nations. An intervention was also being prepared by Lithuania’s diplomatic corps residing in the West. Vaclovas Sidzikauskas, in his book “Diplomatijos Paraštėje “, published in 1979, notes that a Lithuanian delegation was formed in summer of 1946 to present at the forthcoming WWII peace conference Lithuania’s claim to the Lithuania Minor region on ethnic and historical grounds. The conference, however, was never convened. Subsequently, Sidzikauskas together with Mykolas Krupavičius and Lithuania’s envoy to the U.S., Povilas Zadeikis, submitted to the U.S. State Department on February 2, 1949, a memorandum on the restitution of Lithuania’s independence. The document, prepared by the Supreme Council for Liberation of Lithuania, included the Fulda Acts. Copies of the same documents were also submitted to the British and the French governments. None of the governments responded.

The Western Powers never questioned the legality of Russia annexing the East Prussia Koenigsberg region as the Kaliningrad exclave, in spite of the Potsdam agreement 70 years ago to decide the region’s fate in the final peace treaty with Germany. Understandably, Germany, to this day remains silent. Being responsible for precipitating the Second World War and the subsequent tragedy to the whole of Europe, Germany is avoiding airing claims on the loss of any territory and even making reference to the genocide inflicted on millions of German nationals by the Soviet Union during and in the aftermath of WWII.

Countering renewed Russian belligerency

The Soviet Union  was formally dissolved on December 26, 1991. Its satellite States in Central Europe and the Baltics became free and independent. Vladimir Putin, upon becoming president of the Russian Federation (RF) in 2000, initiated aggressive policies to restore Russia to the Soviet Union territorial boundaries as of the end of WWII. He employed military force to occupy parts of Georgia, Crimea, eastern part of Ukraine. He announced multiple times intentions to reintegrate the Baltic States into RF, dominate over Poland and other front-line states of Central Europe, as well as falsely claiming the Kaliningrad exclave as Russia’s historical territory.

In the last few years, Putin’s Russia Federation (RF), besides military threats, is conducting deceptive information, cyber and economic warfare on most of its EU neighbors, but with high focus on the Baltic States and Poland. Prof. Michael Waller, a U.S. information specialist, suggests that EU’s front-line states should exploit RF’s internal weaknesses to deter its external aggression.16 He notes that “Moscow has begun a propaganda campaign to partition Lithuania the way it partitioned Ukraine, and to de-legitimize the cultural and political existence of the Baltic republic…I urge Lithuania not to wait to be undermined and possibly attacked, but to turn the tables on their current and future aggressor”. Prof. Waller’s suggests the following strategy:

Lithuania should use its seat on the United Nations Security Council to introduce a flow of positive but provocative resolutions that Moscow will certainly veto. The object should be to raise embarrassing international security questions in order to provoke the Kremlin into vetoing, for the purpose of drawing attention to key issues that larger powers would rather avoid.

One of those issues is to resolve the legal status of the Russian-occupied territory known by the Stalinist name “Kaliningrad.” That area, captured from the Germans during World War II, was never legally resolved by the Big Four after 1945. Lithuania borders “Kaliningrad” and is well-suited to raise the issue – as well as lead the way to calling it something else rather paying homage to Mikhail Kalinin, one of Stalin’s top henchmen.

Lithuania should provide a voice for Russian regional leaders outside Moscow and a means for them to assert domestic political powers that the Kremlin has usurped.

Highlighting the degree to which Moscow’s centralization is impoverishing the rest of Russia – economically, socially, ecologically and more – is an important means to increase internal tension on Putin and the check its kleptocracy ruling the country.

Lithuania should provide international voices for national and cultural autonomy movements among the RF’s ethnic minorities – especially the Crimean Tatars, the Finnish Karelians, and the Buryats, Yakuts and others in Central Asia and the Far East.

Providing voices for relatively isolated autonomy movements would enable those movements to join forces and seek international recognition. It would also provide an opportunity, held in reserve, to promote full-scale secessionist movements across the RF should the Kremlin not cease its aggression against neutral countries and NATO members.

Professor Waller’s suggestions on methods to deter and counteract RF’s destructive initiatives should be a task not only for Lithuania, but also for all of the Baltic States, Poland and the EU. Regarding the Kaliningrad exclave, arguments should not imply an abuse of RF’s territorial integrity, but rather correcting the unilateral annexation of a territory to which the RF has no legitimate right.17 Lithuania should not try to resolve the issue on its own or in the framework of Lithuania-Russia bilateral relations. By Lithuania becoming member of the EU, any prior agreements with the RF are now also binding on the EU. Accordingly, the agreement between the governments of Lithuania and Russia in 199111, giving Lithuania the right to address and guide Kaliningrad’s economic, social and cultural development, is now also a concern of the EU.

Kaliningrad’s militarization – threat of domination over Northern Europe

With Putin’s ascendency, Russia began in late 1990-s an intense militarization of the Kaliningrad exclave. Putin’s decree #1144 of September 20, 2010, designated Kaliningrad as the headquarters of Russia’s Baltic Sea Fleet. A NATO official, writing to Radio Free Europe on condition of anonymity, said that Moscow is stationing tens of thousands of troops, including mechanized army and naval infantry brigades, military aircraft, modern long-range air defense units, hundreds of armored vehicles, and multiple dozens of nuclear missiles in the territory from which it can threaten any country in the region and blockade access to the Baltic Sea.18 Inasmuch as access from Russia to Kaliningrad by land is primarily through Lithuania, it is particularly vulnerable to any artificially provoked transit incident. Just one year ago, Putin used land access to and security of RF’s Sevastopol naval base at the Black sea as the pretext for occupying Crimea.

As a first step, demilitarization of the Kaliningrad region would start reducing political tensions and concentration of military power throughout the entire Baltic Sea region and possibly in all of Eastern and Central Europe. It would show major respect for international law and not resolution of problems through military aggression. According to prof. Arvydas Anušauskas17, the European parliament is where multilateral initiatives should be taken to change the status of the Kaliningrad exclave, its demilitarization, and airing of the “forgotten” genocide perpetrated on the region’s civilian population in 1945.

Russia in Kaliningrad on a slippery slope

The Kaliningrad exclave is an isolated, rather narrow strip of land bordering Lithuania, Poland and the Baltic Sea. It is over 200 miles distant from RF proper at its closest point. It is inhabited by some 900 thousand people, a quarter of which are RF’s military personnel and their dependents. In surveys, the majority of the exclave population appears to support autonomy, as a free zone within the EU. While about 90 percent of the current Kaliningrad population has never been to any other regions of the RF, most have visited some of the EU countries. This provides them vivid comparison of the meagerness of their own livelihood and the poverty of the enclave. Evidence that people are not happy with Moscow is provided in May 2015 elections to the local council in Kaliningrad Oblast’s Baltisky district. The ruling United Russia party failed to secure even a single seat. As Russian born colonists die-off, many of the younger, native born generations are beginning to explore the region’s past, its ancient monuments and evidence of the area to have been inhabited by different and highly cultured people. Economic analyst Laurinas Kasčiunas, in a September 2014 Lithuanian TV forum, remarked that in view of such contrasts, a progressive breakaway from a distant and economically ailing RF is inevitable.

In competition with Poland and Russia for this territory’s political and structural direction, Lithuania is in weakest position. However, it is neither in the interest of the exclave’s government nor its population to be dictated and controlled by the big contenders and particularly, chauvinistic Poland. Lithuania, by its visible economic and cultural vitality as well as its friendly neighborly attitude, provides the exclave the best model for staying independent and becoming the fourth Baltic State. A solution along this line may also help reverse other “Russia empire restoration” quests, such as in Moldova, Georgia, Eastern Ukraine and even Crimea. However, with Putin being in power and his aim to restore Russia to its past glories, the path to observance of international law and peaceful resolution of disagreements may be long. But Putin is not forever. In this rapidly escalating Information Age, Russian society will sooner or later understand that aggressive and confrontational policies impose unbearable financial and economic burdens on Russia and its people.

Time for action

After 70 years of Russia’s administration, it is time to raise the legitimacy of continuous occupation under the guise of unilateral annexation of the Kaliningrad region by justifying it as recovery of Russia’s historical land19. The enclave needs to be demilitarized and turned into a self-governing entity, and if it so chooses, to become either an independent State or part of the EU. Such status would prohibit use of the region as a Russian military-industrial complex.

It is rather late for Lithuanian government policy makers to address in world-wide forums the illegality of geopolitically motivated annexation, militarization, past genocide, and forced deportation of East Prussia’s native population. As a first step, Lithuania’s euro-parliamentarians should be obligated to draft appropriate documentation to substantiate the case, and seek-out coalition partners that would support raising the legitimacy of Russia’s annexation of the Kaliningrad region in the EU parliament, its highest courts, and the United Nations Security Council. The International Tribunal in Hague might be one of the more promising forums, since it has addressed and dealt with similar issues a number of times in the past century. Furthermore, initiation of such activities at the EU and UN would provide justifiable incentives for U.S. constituents of Baltic and Central European ancestry to raise these issues in the U.S. political arena.

Failing to do so, Putin could employ the successful Crimea occupation example on Lithuania, and through this mechanism extend RF’s hegemony over all of the Baltic States. If nothing is done, Putin will continue his assumed “geopolitical right” to restore Russia to its imperial 1945-1988 glories, with only two questions remaining: who is stronger and when it will occur.


1. Martin Kelly, Atlantic Charter, A Vision for a Post-World War II World, American History, http://americanhistory.about.com/od/worldwarii/a/atlantic charte.htm

2. The Yale Law School, Foreign Policy 1941-1949, Potsdam Conference, July 17-August 2, 1945, Protocol of the Proceedings, August, 1945.

3. Yalta Conference (Feb 4-11, 1944) Summary & Facts, history.state.gov 

4. Cliff Kincaid , The Infiltration of the U.S. Government, Accuracy in Media, November 6, 2012 http://www.aim.org/video/

5. Adrienne Wilmoth Lerner, Cambridge University Spy Ring C, Espionage Encylopedia, http://www.faqs.org/espionage/Bl-Ch/Cambridge-University-Spy-Ring.html#ixzz3bNUslžMX6.

6. Michael Dobbs, FDR, Stalin, Churchill and Truman – form world war to cold war, New York Publisher Alfred A. Knopf, 2012

7. Kennedy Hickman, World War II: Tehran Conference, http://militaryhistory.about.com/od/militarystrategies/p/tehran.htm

8. Glenn E. Curtis, Poland: A Country Study, Washington, D. C.: Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress, 1992, http://www.shsu.edu/~his_ncp/PolandPW.html

9. Lietuviškoji Tarybinė Enciklopedija, Romas Sarmaitis, 10 tomas-573 pslp, Vilnius, 1983

10.:Marius Ėmužis, Karaliaučiaus srities prijungimo prie Lietuvos istorijos pėdsakais, 15 min. 2013 birželio 28d. Šaltinis: Naujasis židinys-Aidai Nr.3

11. Raymond A. Smith, The Status of the Kaliningrad Oblast under International Law, Lituanus, Lithuanian Quarterly Journal of Arts and Sciences, Volume 38, No.1 – Spring 1992

12. Indrė Tumėnaitė, Eugenijus Skipitis, Mažosios Lietuvos genocido diena aplenkia Pagėgių kraštą, Taurages Kurjeris, 2009-10-26

13. Lothar Klafs. Irgi mes Išgyvenome, Nacionalinis Energetikos Forumas, AB Spauda, Lt-05129, Vilnius, 2014

14. Voruta, Povilas Pakarklis: Kontroversiška asmenybė, Voruta, 2010-01-10

15. Vytautas Šilas, Tilžės aktas galioja – todėl įpareigoja, „XXI amžiaus“ priedas apie Lietuvą ir pasaulį, 2007 m. sausio 10 d., Nr. 1 (138)

16. J. Michael Waller, Forward defense for frontline states: Exploit Russia’s internal vulnerabilities, Political Warfare, American Media Institute, May 14, 2015, http://www.libertytreeartifacts.com

17. G. Zemlickas, Praeities klaidos turi buti ištaisytos, Mokslo Lietuva, Nr.5 (339) 2006m. kovo 9

18. Big News Network, Kaliningrad, Moscow’s Military Trump Card, RFE, June 18, 2015, http://www.bignewsnetwork.com/index.php/sid/233945215

19. Steven R. Ratner, Foreign Occupation and International Territorial Administration: The Challenges of Convergence, Oxford Journals-Law-European Journal of International Law, Volume 16, Issue 4, Pp. 695-719

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